By The Numbers

NUMBERS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN IMPORTANT in the automotive industry. Horsepower and torque come to mind. 0 to 60 mph or 0 to 100 kph are often the first thing people want to know, especially with performance cars. Top speed, especially for young people, seems to have great importance although is rarely reached on North American roads. Many car manufacturers will often use numbers to name their cars, which are not limited to engine size. A 427 or 7-litre automobile is very evocative.

Porsche – over its history – typically but not exclusively used numbers to name its cars. The numbers were usually project numbers. I had always believed that when Ferdinand Porsche started his consultancy and design company (registered 25 April 1931), he used a number like seven to act as if it wasn’t a new company. I was disabused of that idea during my research for this column. I came across an article by Dieter Landenberger who at the time was head of Historic Archive of Porsche. The first project was the manufacturing of individual components for a ‘Hesselmann engine’ – a cross between a diesel and gasoline engine. Porsche has always had an innovative spirit. Project seven was a ‘small-car project’ for the Wanderer car company and the first automobile undertaken by the firm.

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Never in the storied history of Le Mans had someone driven a lap as fast as
Kurt Ahrens did in the 917 Langheck – it was the top qualifying time, that led to
the first overall victory for Porsche at Le Mans (photo courtesy of Porsche

The first automobile branded a Porsche was the 356 in 1948. Subsequent versions were alphanumeric i.e. 356A, 356B and 356C. Racing cars were given individual numbers, usually internal company project numbers. Throughout the fifties, successful race cars amongst others were the 550 and 718. As mentioned, Porsche doesn’t discard ideas so we will often see older numbers being reused or utilized as a reference or inspiration.

The 911 was first shown to the world at the Frankfurt auto show in September 1963 and badged as the 901. One of the prototypes was taken to the Paris Auto Show in October 1964. Peugeot objected to the “901” designation as they had patented the numeric description with a “0” in the middle. Porsche changed it to 911. I heard a rumour that after the September 11th attacks in New York, the Porsche board discussed changing from 911 to something else. I have been unable to find anything attesting to the veracity of that story so it may be apocryphal.

In the late sixties, Porsche had race cars with “0” in the middle but they were not in competition with Peugeot so they received no objection. These cars didn’t come out in numeric order and this list with car number and year officially raced in brackets shows: 906 (1966), 907 (1967/68), 908 (1968/71), and 910 (1966/67). We later see Porsche release vehicles again with the numbers seemingly out of order. Ironically Peugeot won the 2009 Le Mans 24-hour race with its 908 HDi. 

Porsche won its first Le Mans with the 917 whose name is remembered in the 918 supercar, which was built in 2015. The next great Porsche race cars were the 956 which became the 962 to comply with North American racing rules. The newest Porsche prototype, the 963, will make its racing debut at the Daytona 24-hour race shortly before this issue of Provinz is received.

Porsche has used names as well. The first use was Carrera, which is still used today on 911 models. As well, the supercar of the early 2000s was called the Carrera GT. The name was first used in 1955 for the 356A 1500 GS and commemorates Porsche successes in the Carrera Pan American race held in Mexico from 1950 to 1954. The Porsche car that was successful there was the 550 Spyder. The Panamera name is also a tribute to the Mexican race. The Porsche 911 Turbo, which was manufactured from 1974 to 1989, is commonly known as the 930. The Targa name commemorates Porsche successes at the Targa Florio race in Sicily

The Boxster is a successful car in terms of performance ability and sales. The name is an amalgam of boxer – for engine configuration and roadster – for body style. The 50th Anniversary Boxster acknowledged the 1953 Porsche 550 RS Spyder from that race. The internal numbers for the Boxster did not run chronologically: 1st generation 986, 2nd generation 987 and 3rd generation 981. The new line of Boxsters introduced in 2016 used the prefix 718 after the sports racer of 1959/60. A later version of the Spyder used the twin fairings in the style of the 718 from 1960/62.

The Boxster is not the only Porsche where the internal numbers do not follow chronologically. The 911 also has internal numbers which Porsche aficionados commonly use although the cars are always badged as 911s. The 964 of the late eighties was followed by the 993, then the 996 and finally the 997. The numbers then fell out of order as the 991 and the 992 followed.

All four door Porsches have names not numbers and whose meanings may not reflect Porsche history or its racing exploits. That may be why the Boxster had the number 718 added to its name as it only has two doors. The Cayenne spiced up the SUV market as it is named after the hot pepper. The Cayman, which has the same internal numbers as the Boxster, is named after the crocodile-like South American caiman. Macan comes from the Javanese word for the Indonesian tiger. Two terms of Turkic origin, which translate approximately to “soul of a spirited young horse” give us the Taycan name.

So, when we slide behind the wheel of our cars we know the meanings of the names, even those with numbers. As noted, the names don’t refer to engine size but have historic connotations and continue Porsche’s tradition of not wasting ideas. </>

The 718 RSK debuted in 1957. Its name paid tribute to both racing and technology:
the RS stands for Rennsport (“racing sport”) and the K reflects the configuration of the newly developed front torsion rods on its back, which resemble the letter K (photo courtesy of Porsche).

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